Tonight, the Royals travel to the cultural capital of Russia to take on the down-and-out Devil Rays--a team beset upon by injury, derailing their season from its onset. The Devil Rays may have dropped part of their name in a vain attempt to distance themselves from their Satanic past despite an obvious deal with the fallen angel himself that ripped them from the cellar in which they dwelled and elevated them to contenders, but the evil power source from which they drew their lifeblood has clearly eaten away at anything remotely pure, leaving them with a gnarled, blackened heart that palpitates irregularly with a rusty, unpleasant snarl.
Their inherent evil is only compounded by the fact that they are such staunch supporters of Vladimir Putin. The anti-Ukrainian sentiments are running rampant through the streets of St. Petersburg, and the Devil Rays have been at the fore, with chants about the seizure of Crimea heard echoing up the halls from the locker room to the field of play leaving their opponents befuddled but ultimately unfazed (as their opponents are American and therefore care little about a country they cannot identify on a map). The matching full back tattoos of Putin punching a bloodied tiger that Evan Longoria is purported to have mandated that he and his teammates gotten in early June has opponents whispering, but clearly the indomitable spirit of Putin was not imbued into Evan Longoria and his Red Rays by the mere act of a permanent ink homage to their leader's heroism.
This isn't just a reignition of Cold War tensions, either. The pairing of starting pitchers tonight also features hurlers who were traded for one another (along with four other players) a mere season-and-a-half ago. James Shields escaped from the unsafe environs of socialist Russia, freeing himself from the chains of life under a near-totalitarian regime only to place young Jake Odorizzi in those very chains he vacated.
For the first 43 starts free from the shackles of Putin's rule, Shields appeared to have been appreciative of his empowerment. His last nine, however, would seem to imply that the freedom means little. In that stretch, Shields's ERA is 5.43. He is allowing a .323/.362/.557 triple-slash to opposing hitters over those last 56.1 innings, striking out just 36, walking 14, and allowing 10 dong hangings to occur.
Since May 9th, the former Royals' farmhand has been quite the opposite of Shields. In his last 60.2 innings, Odorizzi sports a 2.97 ERA with 75 strikeouts and 21 walks. Opponents are hitting just .211/.281/.325 in that time. On the season, he has allowed just nine home runs. Living under an autocratic regime appears to be positively affecting Odorizzi's performance on the field, though whether it is fear or love inspiring him is something which we can only speculate as he is certainly not allowed to speak openly to the press.
Comparing the two, Odorizzi has been worth 1.5 fWAR and 0.8 rWAR with a 3.41 FIP, 3.63 xFIP, and 3.45 SIERA with 26.4 K% and 9.1 BB% in 88.1 IP while Shields has only been worth 1.4 fWAR and -0.2 rWAR with a 4.05 FIP, 3.70 xFIP, and 3.71 SIERA. Odorizzi will be arbitration eligible in 2017 and reach free agency for the 2020 season. Shields will leave Kansas City this offseason.
At least, Shields doesn't have to kowtow to Vladimir Putin anymore. Jake Odorizzi cannot say the same and, given the permanence of his support, likely doesn't want to.